Princeton wins NASA Competition to Develop Plasma Rocket

Aug 30, 2004

NASA has selected engineers at Princeton University to develop an advanced rocket thruster that could send people or robots to other planets with far less propellant than conventional engines.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration awarded a three-year, $4.4 million contract to a team led by Edgar Choueiri, associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, to develop an advanced type of rocket called a plasma thruster. The contract is part of a broad effort by NASA to develop "a new class of ambitious robotic and human exploration missions not possible with existing propulsion technologies," according to Ray Taylor, acting deputy director of NASA's Project Prometheus.

Plasma thrusters are unlike conventional rockets because they do not burn fuel. Instead, they produce superheated, electrically charged particles, called plasma, and use electromagnetic forces to propel the plasma particles from the thruster at a very high speed. Plasma thrusters need relatively little propellant because the particles can be made to move much faster than the combustion exhaust from conventional rockets. In Choueiri's system, the particles will be lithium ions.

Plasma propulsion systems have been used in recent space flights, but still do not operate at the very high power levels (hundreds of kilowatts) required for interplanetary flight, said Choueiri. His project, called "Alfa2: Advanced Lithium-fed Applied-field Lorentz Force Accelerator," could result in a rocket design capable of sending heavy cargo and humans to the moon, Mars or beyond.

Choueiri will lead a group that also includes scientists at three NASA facilities -- the Glenn Research Center, Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Marshall Space Flight Center -- in addition to the University of Michigan and the Worcester (Mass.) Polytechnic Institute.

Source: Princeton University

Explore further: Russia announces plan to build new space station with NASA

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

The new frontier in plasma medicine

Mar 18, 2015

Applications of plasmas in medicine are a new frontier in therapeutic treatment. For example, they can help in stimulating tissue regeneration in the contexts of wound healing and dermatology. Before these ...

Scientists develop cool process to make better graphene

Mar 18, 2015

A new technique invented at Caltech to produce graphene—a material made up of an atom-thick layer of carbon—at room temperature could help pave the way for commercially feasible graphene-based solar cells ...

NOAA's DSCOVR: Offering a new view of the solar wind

Feb 06, 2015

There's a fascinating spot some 932,000 miles away from Earth where the gravity between the sun and Earth is perfectly balanced. This spot captures the attention of orbital engineers because a satellite can ...

Recommended for you

Europe resumes Galileo satnav deployment (Update)

19 hours ago

Europe resumed deployment of its beleaguered Galileo satnav programme on Friday, launching a pair of satellites seven months after a rocket malfunction sent two multi-million euro orbiters awry.

More evidence for groundwater on Mars

Mar 27, 2015

Monica Pondrelli and colleagues investigated the Equatorial Layered Deposits (ELDs) of Arabia Terra in Firsoff crater area, Mars, to understand their formation and potential habitability. On the plateau, ...

Is the universe finite or infinite?

Mar 27, 2015

Two possiblities exist: either the Universe is finite and has a size, or it's infinite and goes on forever. Both possibilities have mind-bending implications.

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.